Debating the Past #Historians for Britain

Debating the Past is in the planning stage for a debate organized by Historyworks for 2017 with Cambridge partners, where we plan to have a range of historian 'expert' witnesses to reflect about the nature of the debate over the past two years and the role of the historian in society - plus the future of the historians' role in the media!

Debating the Past was kicked off in May 2015 by a controversial article, ‘Britain; apart from or a part of Europe?’, published in 'History Today' by David Abulafia which created a flurry of blogs and twitter debates using the hashtag #HistoriansforBritain (find their website here: The debate was perhaps a logical riposte to The History Manifesto published by Cambridge University Press - see Historyworks’ overview of this debate here: 

Abulafia is Chair of the pressure group ‘Historians for Britain’ (hereafter HfB) who campaigned for ‘a substantial change in Britain’s relationship with the EU’ in the run-up to the EU referendum on the 23rd June 2016.  The cornerstone of HfB’s reasoning is the idea that British history unfurled in a unique way, witnessing the ‘[development of] traditions and practices which are peculiar to our shores.’  Campaigners argue that Britain has a stronger claim to the historical pursuit of values such as ‘parliamentary sovereignty… democracy and fairness’, and that this ought to be reflected in the relationship between Britain and the EU.    

Almost immediately, the academic community retaliated, organising themselves under names such as ‘Historians for History’ and ‘Historians for Britain in Europe’.  Articles and blogs poured fourth, denouncing HfB, and particularly Abulafia, as biased, irresponsible and out-dated. Opposing historians couched their criticisms in a variety of ways, some inverting the tactics of HfB by selecting examples from the past to illustrate indissoluble connections and similarities between Britain and Europe.  Others took a different stance, questioning the role history as a discipline should play in politics, and the extent to which the past should inform the present.    

Historyworks have attempted to capture the rich and varied #HistoriansForBritain debate, and we’ve attempted to provide a full listing of the most significant blogs and articles that ensued between May 2015 and June 2016.  Where possible, the debate is organised in chronological order.  The first two articles listed here were published before the debate really took off, but were deemed relevant enought to include. If readers spot any gaps or omissions, please let us know, by contacting Helen Weinstein via

  • Podcasts/Radio

    12th March 2015. BBC News – ‘Historians David Abulafia and Mary Beard on Europe’. This short clip introduces the pressure group Historians for Britain and features ...

    Read more

  • The debate: 2016

    16th Jan 2016.  Telegraph. ‘Historians for Britain warn against pro-EU scare tactics.’ This article summarises HfB’s claim that the government are wrong to suggest the EU ...

    Read more

  • The debate: 2015

    26th February 2015.  Ben Riley-Smith. ‘Millions of children being taught distorted view of European history to push further EU integration.’  Ben Riley-Smith outlines the views of ...

    Read more

  • History in Schools & Citizenship

    THIS PAGE IS A STUB LINKS NEED CHECKING AND CORRECTING National Identity and Belongingness History Syllabus & Citizenship Resources on History teaching and the Citizenship ...

    Read more

Debating the Past #Historians for Britain


In this section